Cherishing the cliché

Happy Mother’s day.

I’ve long viewed this day as a cliché and the commercialisation of it irks me. Still, my family  celebrates it every year and it’s a lovely family day for us. Here’s the thing, as years pass…as I get older, I’m learning to cherish this day when motherhood is celebrated.

After all, what a privilege! I have 2 lovely daughters, 2 lovely human beings. I learn so much from them and they challenge me to be a better person. It’s a tough gig  but I wouldn’t have it any other way.


I’ve been lucky, too, to have a mother who I’m sure was born a generation too early! I’ve learned heaps from her directly and vicariously…and that includes the love of learning and reading and crafting and volunteering and giving and mother-ing and so on.

What’s more, my social media is full of well wishes to the many mothers I know. This has made me realise that not only do I have wonderful kids, I’m also surrounded by amazing women who have raised wonderful kids as well as many friends raised by wonderful women. Now, there’s a happy thought!

None of us will be here without a mother.

So cliché or not….


I cherish this day then, not just for the wonder and privilege of being a mother but for all the mothers, including my own, as well as would’ve been, would-be, can’t be and don’t-wanna-be mothers.

More and more, I view mother’s day as a celebration of women.

Is there a ‘happy women day’? Maybe there should be.

Was it a waste of time?

My year 10s had just had their storyboards assessed and approved.

They were supposed to get started with planning for the next  stage of their multimedia projects; maybe even get started developing components of it.


My year 10s were visibly unsettled today at period 1. They said they had an English assessment next period – speech. They exchanged stories of how late they went to bed to get this ready and the ‘winner’ (not in my class) went to bed at 4:30 a.m. How anyone could function with such little sleep is beyond me!

We ploughed through the work that needed to be done but they were easily distracted and not really focusing.


In the end, I succumbed and gave them the last half hour of the lesson to practice for their speeches. They had to pretend it’s the real thing so they had to perform in front of everyone as against doing it quietly in their own ‘corner’.  I figured, they weren’t really being productive in my subject so they might as well be productive in something.

Here’s a gist of what happened:

  • I had a glimpse of their creativity, literacy and thinking skills in another context (English)
  • Students took on roles voluntarily as time-keeper and editors
  • Students gave each other constructive feedback
  • I gave constructive feedback
  • Students felt more settled and ready to face their assessment, even those who did not perform but still got editing help
  • We’ve got a concrete example of positive collaboration – one I’m going to keep promoting in MY class

Part of me feels like I’ve been sucked in. Yet, was it really a waste of time?

Festival of Learning Day 2

Day 2 lived up to Day 1. Could I end there? 🙂

Seriously, the themes from day 1 carried on.  My main takeaway from Dean Groom  is the importance of imagination and giving opportunities to not only let this surface/play but to used to meet a need to find a solution.  Actually, he mentioned this equation: tools + imagination + need = solution. I also appreciated him echoing Greg Alchin’s message of leveraging technology affordances to address accessibility.

Dr Bron Stuckey inspired us to pick up our hero journey as we learn more about PLANE and becoming better teachers for ourselves, our students, our peers.  While I’m not personally sold on the hero thing (I’ve got issues carried over from my IT days), I’m definitely sold on the idea of a learning journey being a narrative as a good hero journey should be and definitely on the idea that fun/enjoyment should be part of it.

If really pushed to do pick just one thing I can act on from the plethora of ideas gained from the conference, it’d have to be this: promote well- being of students and staff alike, thanks to Dan Haesler.   I previously blogged about what makes people tick which does help promote well-being. Dan spoke at length of Seligman’s PERMA model: Positive emotions, (active) Engagement (vs conformity), Relationships, Meaning, Accomplishment.  So many ways or angles to act on promoting well-being.  And if  still lacking inspiration, find some in Dan’s crowd-sourced wallwisher here.

I found Mark Treadwell really affirmed many of my thoughts on teaching, e.g. importance of concepts (vs topics), understanding the learning process, the beauty (my term) of inquiry. “Identify the concept, keep the body of knowledge small, apply knowledge to a number of contexts and practice.”  Apropos contexts, I love how Dan Meyer explains it.

It was really nice to be in Donelle Batty’s session, ably supported by students: Nick Patsianas and Nathaniel.  I am partial to their Massively Minecraft: Project Mist story (read more here).  Justly so.

Finally, I reckon Dr Jason Fox‘s approach for his wrap-up keynote was novel.  He showed us his notes – doodles for each session he attended – pity no one doodled his session yesterday! Anyway, just imagine if we didn’t force students to copy as we write it but let them freely doodle their notes.  As a Maths teacher, I have experimented with letting kids make their own definitions/explanations such as SMS or tweet but doodles trumps that, imho.

It was also good to see the PLANE team relax and dance gangnam style – thanks to Rolfe Kolbe, you can watch it too.  Rolfe tried to explain to me as he was doing this but I got lost as he flicked through a few apps. This guy’s an ace.

Well done PLANE team and presenters. The Festival of Learning really got this message across:

Do it. Share it. Lead it.

Finishing up here, just under 500 (not 300) words again.

Repeating my PS: if you’re an educator, register at PLANE.

Sometimes we break them

Orchid buds 2 by Mal Booth, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Mal Booth 

I was gardening yesterday and I was delighted to see that my “neglected” orchid had buds, very much like the photo above. It was not really neglected in the sense that these plants like to be outside, in dappled light…and obviously it was happy enough to flower!

That was the good news. The bad news was that I broke the bud cluster (or whatever they’re called). Yes, I broke it and my heart broke…a little. See, I wanted to bring it inside the house in the flower pot it vacated after flowering years (yes, years) ago. So, I thought I’d tidy it up a little and pull out some of the weeds and get rid of some snails. When I was done, I looked up and wondered where the flower buds were; they were on the ground….broken off.  Aargh (did you hear me then?).

Now, I know this story is RICH and full of potential metaphors but the first thing that came to my mind was – kids; and I thought that as a parent and a teacher. We want them to flourish in optimum conditions and when they  flower, we want to celebrate it and to be honest, glow with pride (yes – show them off…perfectly human, I reckon).

But not all kids survive such process, sometimes we break them. This is not necessarily due to the extremes of neglect or over-attention (can one love too much?). In fact, I’m more inclined to think it’s when kids disconnect (break off, so-to-speak) for which there could be many, many reasons.

My train of thought (yes, this was all still part of me grieving the broken buds yesterday) led me to think about my choice to only have 2 kids and my preference for smaller class sizes. To connect with kids, we need to get to know them and that takes time and effort. Hats off to parents with more kids and teachers who can handle many students. Me? I sort of know my limits.

So yes, it worries me when a politician says class sizes are not important and harps on too much about teacher quality. Doing my Grad Dip Ed, The Importance of Teacher Quality (2002, Rowe) really hit home. What really struck me then was that there were more differences in schooling experiences and outcomes between classes (not between schools, genders, SES, etc) …. which then got credited to teacher quality.

Little did I know that as a teacher, the experiences of my students would differ even during the same school year, i.e. my “quality” is not that consistent.

What gives?

There are so many variables when people are concerned. Dynamics are important. Yes, relationships….which, as mentioned above, need time and effort. And time and effort, we must expend (as teachers and parents) because ….we might break them (kids), even with good intentions.

So is it really teacher quality that makes the biggest difference or is it a combination of factors? Frankly, I’m a little confused now.

Many have said that our education system is broken. Or is it our society that’s broken because we’re all a little confused (not for lack of information but the glut of conflicting information, more like). Anyway, I have no solution. Is it to make classes smaller or give performance pay or give more strategic Professional Development or mentoring or selecting “high achievers”? Hey, maybe it’s none of the above or all of the above and more besides.

What we must remember is this….sometimes we break them. Sometimes, we notice straight away and can ameliorate but sometimes, it is too late….and that is tragic.



My problem with “best”

As I’ve gotten older, I’m getting more irked by the idea of “personal best” (PB) or saying “do your best”. This is an issue as many parents and teachers (and schools) I know promote the idea….I’m going against the grain.

What gives?

I have 2 main reasons.

One is the problem of definition, i.e. that we never know what best really is. There is always the possibility for more or better. I know I’m not alone in thinking this, e.g. Professor John Hattie (Visible Learning) and Mark Pesce (the Next Billion Seconds: Framework) – that we can be more, especially as connected beings.

If we can’t know it, how do we know we’re doing it? Even if one is to argue about its temporal and contextual nature, I cannot be convinced that it serves any merit.

Another reason is the problem of practicality, i.e. that any one ever really does their best on everything they do. What of passion then where people supposedly give 110% (leaving the rest in the negative void)? Percentages aside, it makes sense that most people would pour much of themselves into areas of personal interest and less so on other things. This does not mean shirking responsibilities but I think it is unrealistic to demand top effort on everything all of the time.

If we always do our best on everything, are we at a higher risk of burn-out?

What then?

I have 2 suggestions.

One is to ask “Can you do better?” Corollary to that is “Will you choose to do better?” I think this approach is far more empowering, as against a consolation “it’s okay, you’ve done your best”.

Another is to allow focus choice – pursuit of passion, if that’s more your language – and chill out a little on the other things. I think this is values-based such that important matters/people are given higher priority and top effort to make good.

So what?

This is only my opinion, of course, which informs how I parent my kids or teach my students or even live my life. I am much less stressed now that I have learned to chill out and not “do my best” on everything. This approach has made me think a lot about my priorities. I am happy knowing that though I can sometimes do things better, I can choose not to because I have more important matters to attend to.

So now you see my problem with best and how I’m getting around it. 🙂